It's been over a year since Coca-Cola introduced the PlantBottle, made from a mix of petroleum-based materials and up to 30% plant-based materials. We were a bit skeptical of the bottle at first, especially since Coca-Cola piloted it with Dasani water. Was this, we wondered, just a marketing ploy? Judging from PlantBottle's massive rollout over the past year—it's now in nine major markets in a variety of Coca-Cola's drinks (including Coke itself)—the answer is no. This was a very real and somewhat green move.
"Coke not only played a role in bringing this innovation to marketplace, but we're leading in building out the supply chain," says Scott Vitters, global head of sustainable packaging for Coca-Cola. "We're purposely selecting the plants that are used, where the sugar comes from. We're making the plastic, selecting where that's coming from based on sustainability principles, and we're directly involved in working with suppliers to build out capacity to make materials."
Currently, the only plant found in the bottle is Brazilian sugar cane—a sustainable choice, but still a crop grown on arable land that could be used for food. Coca-Cola is working on bringing cellulosic plant waste into the bottle in the next two or three years. "Local markets will dictate the right feedstock," Vitters says.
Coca-Cola's ultimate goal is a 100% plant-based plastic bottle, Vitters promises. "We've shown how to do that in a lab environment," he says. "It's technically possible, but we haven't figured out the best way to make it commercial."
If Coca-Cola succeeds, the company hopes it won't be alone in using the material. Because while it's helpful for one major company to ditch petroleum-based bottles, it doesn't mean much for the planet if its rivals lag behind.